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This article was originally published as:

Thompson, S. (2006). Was ancient Rome a dead wives society? What did the Roman paterfamilias get away with? Journal of Family History, 31(1), 3-27. doi:10.1177/0363199005283010



Until recently, descriptions of the Roman family routinely attributed to the head of household the right of life and death over his wife, children of any age, and slaves, and assumed he exercised it. Challenges to this position by Roman law specialists have gradually affected the way this right and its exercise are described by historians of the family. This article surveys these challenges, tracks their uptake by historians of the family, and notes the emerging consensus answer to the question What did the Roman father get by with? Relevant ancient sources are quoted and placed in context, and previously unexamined evidence from Roman playwrights and satirists is offered to support the emerging consensus answer, which is that he did not get away with murder.


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